Class of 2020: 10 Pieces of Advice For Future MBAs

You can read every online blog or dissect every school’s salary and placement stats. Fact is, they are starting points. Eventually, you’re going to whittle down your list. When you do, you’re going to reach out for advice. Whether you speak to students and alumni or mentors and friends, you’re bound to get unexpected observations and conflicting advice.

That’s what happened to the Class of 2020. It’s no different than what every class before them endured. That’s the nature of choosing a business school. MBA Candidates bring different priorities and values to the process. That means their approaches will vary…greatly.


Take Evan Luo, a PwC manager who joined Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business this fall. He admits that a weighted model, which assigns a value to variables like location, is a great tool. In the end, he applies a different strategy to separate schools after he meets with community members. He calls it the “flight test.”

“Try to imagine if you would like to sit next to the alumni, faculty, or future classmate in a four-hour flight and if you will have a comfortable and inspiring conversation,” he posits.

UCLA Anderson’s Ezra Glenn

Ezra Glenn didn’t bother with a simulation. Before choosing UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, we went straight to the source. He camped out on campus, almost like a spy, to get a feel for the people and culture of the school.

“Attending classes and meeting with students is good, but I found that just trying to blend in was an even more productive simulation of membership in a given student body,” he asserts. “I sat in campus cafés and quads, listened a bit to the conversations around me, and pulled out my laptop to do some work or answer emails. It’s always hard to separate your experience as a visitor from the general feeling of a place, so when I could, I made multiple trips to campus on different days and at different times of year to give myself more data.”


Then again, the Wharton School’s Brittany Fearnside, a West Point grad and Psychological Operations Commander, went straight to the source. She networked with veterans from Service to School, who acted as mentors and introduced her to their networks. In the process, she gained a valuable piece of advice that shaped how she approached the application process.

“They reminded me that there is no single piece that takes you out of the running,” she explains. “They told me the whole package matters and to be confident in your experiences. I credit my mentors directly with my success and I implore any aspiring business school students to find those resources that offer similar assistance.”

This fall, Poets&Quants profiled nearly 500 first-year MBA students from over 40 full-time programs. As part of the profile, we asked these candidates to look back on the process and share the best advice they would give to future MBA applicants. From asking the right questions to perfecting their stories, here are 10 of the most helpful insights to getting into the school of your dreams.

University of Chicago Booth’s Sarah Russell

1) Dig For Clues In the Application: “At the beginning of my research process, I relied heavily on online resources to help me determine which schools would provide the best fit for me, both academically and culturally. In fact, I remember reading through many articles just like this one to learn about the types of students that different schools attracted.  Once I had narrowed my list down to my top several schools, I started the actual application process, which turned out to be a great indicator of fit, in and of itself. In my experience, a school’s application reveals a lot about the prevailing mindset of the program. For example, it was clear to me that the main goal of Booth’s application was to gain an understanding of how the applicant thinks and how he or she tackles open-ended problems. This approach appealed to me immensely and helped reinforce my decision that Booth was a good match for me.”

Sarah Russell, University of Chicago (Booth)

2) Create a Custom Model: “To make my decision, I created an Excel spreadsheet that ranked schools by: prestige (based on U.S. News reports), academic flexibility (from school websites), leadership development opportunities (from school websites), job prospects (based on employment reports), alumni willingness to help (based on conversations with friends at those programs), social life (based on conversations with friends), cost, and closeness to family. Highest weightings went to job prospects/alumni, social life, and closeness to family.”

Alice Schnurman, New York University (Stern)

“In deciding which school to attend, I used both quantitative and qualitative methods of analysis. How typical MBA of me! I had a weighted-average spreadsheet that listed a number of factors that were important to me. I also wrote a personal journal entry outlining what was important to me. The factors I considered were, broadly: People/Fit, Learning Environment, Extracurriculars, Post-MBA considerations, Cost, and Proximity to Significant Other.”

Alan Man, U.C.-Berkeley (Haas)

3) Look Beyond the Financial Return: “It took a lot of soul searching. When I first told my friends that I was thinking of applying to business school, many of them pointed to the sky-high tuition fees and equally high opportunity costs. It took me a while to feel secure in saying that it’s not about money. Yes, long-term, I have no doubt it will pay off, but business school to me is more about self-growth, forming deep relationships with inspiring people, and the pursuit of a happier, more fulfilling life. When I learned to look at it in those terms, it became an easy decision for me.”

Miles Olson, Northwestern University (Kellogg)

4) Start Early: “I cannot emphasize this enough: start early. It helps immensely to finish your GMAT by March-April and start your application journey as early as May. It gives you time to network, attend events, visit schools and meet other applicants. It’s important to allow yourself enough time to get a deeper sense of the unique culture of each school, so that you can choose the ones that best fit you as a person.”

Dheeraj Chowdary Nekkanti, Wharton School

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